Den Laurey strained against the cuffs so his shoulders bulged under his jailhouse-blues, sending ripples through the FTW tattooed above his collarbone. An amused smile, all gums at the corners, rode high on his face. In an additional security measure, the chain of his leg-restraint had been knotted, narrowing the space between his ankles. Kaner sat beside him on the transport’s bench seat, stooped so his head wouldn’t strike the roof during freeway turbulence. Because he was too broad for his wrists to meet behind his back, Kaner’s arms were secured with two sets of handcuffs linked together. A one-time sparring partner to Tyson—in prison—he’d snapped more than one set of cuff chains, so a second pair of restraints secured him at the forearms. Beneath a wild man’s spray of black hair, a 22 tat on the back of his neck advertised his previous stint in the pen. Kaner had a broad, coarse face and prominent earlobes, fleshy tags that lay dimpled against his skull.
Den, president of the Laughing Sinners nomad chapter, and Kaner, the biker gang’s national enforcer, were being driven under heavy guard directly from sentencing to San Bernardino County Jail, where they’d await Con-Air transport to a federal penitentiary. They’d been convicted of the torture-killing of three members of the Cholos, in retaliation for the shooting of a Sinner. Den, renowned for his knife skills, had severed the victims’ heads with surgical precision and set them in their laps. For good measure, he’d removed their hearts and left them on the Cholo’s clubhouse doorstep. The gesture marked another step in the escalation between the Sinners and Cholos, a broad-ranging turf war for control over key arteries of Southern California’s drug trafficking network.
Deputy U.S. marshal Hank Mancone, a fixture behind the wheel of the transport van, was the only non-prisoner in the three-vehicle convoy not a member of the Service’s Arrest Response Team. Frankie Palton in the passenger’s seat, the four deputy marshals in the armored Suburban behind them, and the two in the advance vehicle five miles up the road were all part of the district’s ART squad, called in for tactical strikes and high-risk transports. Mancone was a deputy as well, but given his retirement age and contentment grousing about his narrow bailiwick, he had little interest in the ARTists aside from giving them the occasional lift.
Palton pivoted in his seat, meeting Den’s shit-eating grin through the steel security screen.
“You can take our clothes, but you can’t take our colors.”
“What’s FTW stand for?”
“Fuck the World.”
“We keep having these Hallmark moments, I might get dewy eyed.”
The radio crackled in from the chase car. Jim Denley—Palton’s partner—”Eyes up on your right. We got some more bikers coming on.”
Palton looked in the side rear-view. Two bikers rattled past, double-packing, their mamas reclining against sissy bars and offering the deputies languorous waves. Another three bikers zipped by on the right, flying colors, filthy club logos flapping on the backs of their leather jackets.
Mancone’s grip on the steering wheel eased once the whine of the Harleys faded.
“What’s with all the bikers?”
“Relax, lawman,” Den said. “It’s the season. You got your Love Ride in Glendale, the Long Beach Swap, San Dog Run, Left Coast Rally in Truckee, Big Bear Ride, Mid-State Holiday Hog Run in Paso Robles, Squaw Rock Run, Desert Whirlybird Meet.”
His smirk bounced into sight in the rear-view mirror. “All the wannabes on the move.”
Kaner’s three-pack-a-day voice emerged from the tangle of hair down over his face. “I’ll still take it over you citizens driving around in your cages.”
“Hear that, Mancone?” Palton said. “We got nothing to worry about. Just wannabes. And to think, I was carrying this gun for no good reason.”
Den said, “You want to get your shorts twisted over some weekend warriors, be my guest.”
From the chase car—”Shit. Greaseball alert number two.”
Two streams of bikers throttled by on either side of the van, their top rockers—the strips of stitched leather cresting the jackets’ logos—announcing them as Cholos. Their bottom rockers showed their mother chapter affiliation: Palmdale. A few minutes later, a beefy biker rolled past and did a double take at the prisoners. When he lingered to gloat and flip them a middle finger, Palton raised the stock of his MP5 into view. The Cholo opened the throttle, ponytail flicking, and his bottom rocker came visible—Nomad.
Den laughed, scratching his cheek with a swipe of his shoulder. “Good ‘ole Meat Marquez. Now that his nomad buddies met their untimely demise, poor spic’s gotta ride all by his lonesome.”
They came around a bend in the 10 and were greeted by hundreds of brake lights. As Mancone cursed and slowed to a crawl, Palton got the advance car on the air. “What’s with the traffic?”
“What traffic? We sailed through.”
“Probably, but stay alert. We’ll exit and wait.”
Once traffic ground to a standstill, a biker wearing a duster pulled a few lengths ahead of them, stopping where the space between idling cars narrowed. He was low in the seat, pint-sized but exuding attitude. He turned and looked back, the van reflected in the silver blade of the helmet’s faceplate. The distinctive Indian logo identified the motorcycle frame’s maker, but the rest of the sleek bike seemed to be custom-built. It sported a leather saddlebag on the left side, but its mate was missing on the right. The biker revved the engine, giving voice to 1200 cubic centimeters of rage.
Jim’s voice came through the radio again, and Palton replied, “Yeah, we got him. Looks to be unaffiliated—he’s not flying colors.”
A Harley white-lined through the traffic jam, easing up past the right side of the Suburban and van. The helmeted rider paused a few feet back from the other biker, across the lane, idling.
Hands tensing around his weapon, Palton checked the side mirror. Jim had the stock of his MP5 against his shoulder, ready to be raised. Something was lying on the ground under the Suburban at the front left tire. Palton clicked the rear-view controls, centering the object in the mirror.
A leather saddlebag.
Palton’s eyes lifted, noting the bare right side of the Indian bike ahead. He raised his gun, spinning around. Den and Kaner were lying on the floor, braced against the seats, covering their heads. Palton grabbed for the radio. “Shit, get off the—”
The biker on the Harley raised a lighter-sized initiator. His gloved hand tensed.
A low-register boom. The Suburban rose up on the fireball eruption, crashing on its side. The surrounding cars slid a few feet from the blast, doors caving in, windows shattering.
The transport van skidded forward on its front tires, its ass end lifted by the explosion under the trailing vehicle. It smashed the car in front and slammed down directly beside the Harley. Seatbelts gut-checked Palton and Mancone, their weapons banging against the dash. The Indian’s kickstand was down; the small biker sat backward on the seat, sighting with the AR-15 he’d produced from beneath his duster.
The two deputies raised their heads as the first volley of bullets punched into the window, degrading the armored glass. The inside layer fragged out, glass embedding in their faces. When the windshield gave, their bodies jiggled like marionettes.
The man on the Harley had dismounted and was firing into the van’s side lock. When the door slid open, he threw aside his gun and caught the bolt cutters his partner tossed him. Rolling to the edge of the van, Den offered up his ankles, then his wrists, the steel jaws of the cutters making short work of the connecting chains. He bounced out of the van and hopped on the empty Harley, cuffs rattling like jewelry around his wrists and ankles, chains dangling. A jagged edge by the door lock caught Kaner’s prison jumpsuit as he stood, ripping it from collar to tail. Kaner hopped on behind Den, their rescuer leapt on the back of the Indian, and the two bikes took off in opposite directions, splitting lanes.
The four deputies in the keeled-over Suburban strained against their seatbelts, coughing out glass and bleeding from the ears. One set of motorcycle wheels zipped past, heading the wrong way. Innumerable car alarms bleated; someone’s cry of anguish expired in a gurgle.
The wind picked up the severed chains dangling from Den’s and Kaner’s shackles, drawing them horizontal. Kaner’s torn shirt flapped open, showing off his backpack, the club logo rendered on his flesh in orange and black. They sped off, the flaming skull screaming back from the receding bike at the dead and wounded.
Silver jiggled on china as white-gloved waiters cleared the remains of the five-hundred-dollar-a-plate luncheon. Marshal Tannino stood milling with other Angelino political luminaries, looking mildly out of place with his coiffed salt-and-pepper hair and his department-store suit. He tugged at his too-short sleeves to bring his gold-star links into view, and squinted up at the chardonnay-haired woman holding a glass of white wine.
“If we really are serious about committing resources—”
Across the vast ballroom of the Beverly Hills Hotel, someone’s beeper chirped—a cutesy electronic rendition of “Jingle Bells.”
—to fully secure the courts, we need to—”
Another pager added a discordant melody, then a multitude chimed in. Tannino glanced down, frowning at his own beeper. “Excuse me, Your Honor.”
State assemblymen and deputies alike scurried to the ballroom’s exits, checking the reception levels on their cell phones. Tannino was halfway to the lobby when the city attorney approached, holding out a Nextel. “It’s the Mayor.”
Tannino snapped the phone to his ear, still moving. “Yes, sir. Uh huh. Uh huh.” His face tightened. As he continued to listen, he fished his cell phone from his pocket and, holding it down at his waist, speed-dialed. “Right away, sir.”
He handed back the Nextel and pressed his own phone to his ear. “Get Rackley.”
The foregoing is excerpted from Troubleshooter by Gregg Hurwitz. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
“Hurwitz is a rock-solid writer, researcher and plotter, and readers will find him in top form putting Rackley through his procedural paces as he slowly closes in on and shuts down the spectacularly evil Laughing Sinners.”
“Rackley rides again in a first-rate thriller about bikers gone bad….the Laughing Sinners are the nastiest who ever threw a leg over a Hog….Competently written and plotted, but it’s the righteously resolute Rackley you pay your money for, and he doesn’t disappoint.”
Tess Gerritsen Speaks With Gregg Hurwitz About Troubleshooter, Outlaw Biker Gangs, and Liquid Heroin:
TG: You decided to bring back the infamous Tim Rackley in this novel. Why now?
GH: I never set out to write a series, but Tim got under my skin in a way that no other character of mine had. After The Kill Clause , I had another story I wanted to write, but Tim kept worming his way into the plot. I found that including him in The Program gave me a lot of great creative opportunities. By the time I began Troubleshooter, Tim was fully in the driver’s seat. It’s the first time he’s truly back with the Marshals, with complete federal resources behind him, working his deadliest case yet.
TG: Troubleshooter focuses on outlaw biker gangs of California. What kind of research did you do to learn about these gangs?
GH: First off, I learned how to ride a Harley (badly). And I rode a lot of the biker routes through the LA canyons, including the Malibu trail where Tim¹s first confrontation with Den Laurey takes place. I also spent a lot of time interviewing cops and FBI agents who worked biker units. Some specialized law enforcement articles about handling outlaw biker gangs filled in the blanks.
TG: Who was the most interesting person you met in the course of your research?
GH: One former agent was of great help, having ridden undercover with biker gangs for seven years. I flew out to meet him in Miami and spent a few days drinking beers with him and swapping stories (his were much better than mine).
TG: The use of a very technical, and gruesome, medical procedure in this novel ties together the mysterious death of underprivileged women and the distribution of a highly advanced form of liquid heroin where did you come up with this idea?
GH: This was another of the fun parts of my research. I wanted to find an ingenious smuggling device, something worthy of Den Laurey and the Sinners. But everything I came up with felt somehow standard. I was doing some related research and a bunch of different ideas all came together at once. A medical journal article I read collided with an agency document I’d gotten a hold of about airport security and the idea was born. I don¹t want to give anything away, but let’s just say that the more I looked into my fictional scenario, the more plausible (and unique) it seemed.
TG: You’ve put Rackley in some truly horrific situations, from losing his daughter to being manipulated by a mind control cult. Now in Troubleshooter you make Tim face the possible loss of his wife and unborn child. Why do you choose to interweave the personal and professional life of Rackley so tightly?
GH: The Rackley series is really an action-meditation (how’s that for an oxymoron?) on vigilanteism. Because of that, I wanted to raise the stakes on the factors that tempt Tim to act outside the law. At the end of The Kill Clause , he returns to a position he previously held, but with newfound conviction he recognizes the importance of the law, sometimes even over justice. That conviction is tested in Troubleshooter in an entirely different manner. And the question becomes: with so many deadly skills at his disposal, can Tim hold on to lawfulness?
TG: Can we expect to see Rackley on the big screen any time soon?
GH: Here’s hoping! I had a lot of fun adapting The Kill Clause for Paramount, and am looking into opportunities for the other books in the series.